Key Verse 15:39a
“They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.”
Many of you know that on several occasions I’ve had to go to Malvern, England for training. It’s a small town that’s about three and a half hours northwest from London. It’s peaceful and has a lot of vintage buildings. 85% of the stores are closed by 5:00 p.m., so there isn’t much to do after typical business hours. But the town is still alive. I would see people walking with each other. They are having dinner together; watching sports together; walking their dogs together; they are just enjoying each other’s company. No work, no agenda to follow. And this, just during the weekdays. Sometimes I’d just sit and watch them, and enjoy looking at their fellowship. You don’t see much of that in our individualistic and goal driven society. No one has the time. It doesn’t seem like many have the time these days to just enjoy life with each other. When was the last time you received a call from someone who was just checking in you? My wife tells me constantly that she just wants me to call her and see how she’s doing. She likes knowing that she’s on my mind. It’s one of the many signs that my love for her is authentic.
Unfortunately, in Paul’s day there wasn’t any phones or email, so he couldn’t just call up the churches he had planted and have a chat with them. Paul had to take a long and hard journey. Verse 36, Luke says, “Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Paul’s first missionary journey included many trials and hardships. They were chased away, beaten and maligned. Why in the world would Paul come up with the idea, to go back? Would you want to go back to a place or season in your life that was extremely difficult? You may be in a difficult spot right now and just want out. Why on earth would you ever want to go back? Usually people never want to go back. But Paul did! Yet we hear nothing in his words that shows it would be a burden for him. He wasn’t even thinking on that level. When you really love people, any sacrifice that was needed, in the long run is really no sacrifice at all. When I wonder how my shepherds endured some of the hardship I put them through, and I remind them about it, they usually say something like, “What hardship? We’re actually thankful that you put up with us” One day an Uber driver was talking to me about his new-born baby. He and his wife just had a son. He said: “Yes, me and my wife argue sometimes, yes the baby cries a lot and keeps us awake, but when I look into his eyes and am reminded of how much I love him, I forget about all the hardships.” So, when we really love people, all of the sacrifices seem worth it. Verse 36 say a lot about the love Paul had for the believers!
On the flip side, if you have an elder, or a man or woman of God disciplining you, one who’s full of blessing and prayer, don’t take it lightly. We are very privileged to have them in our life. If there’s someone you have, who serves you the word of God along with their time and resources, someone who is always willing to pour out themselves for you, don’t make their role extra difficult. Listen to them; keep your appointments with them. Most importantly, take their advice to heart. A true shepherd really wants nothing more than to see God glorified in your life. Their job is hard-enough as it is. You are very privileged that God has assigned you a shepherd, who will dispense of themselves for you, and not expect much in return. A true shepherd knows that a sheep cannot give much back, but they are still overwhelmed with love for the flock of God. Such was the heart of Paul when he took Barnabas aside and proposed that they go back to see how God’s flock were doing, in spite of the hardship.
As a shepherd it is good for us to think about how the flock of God is doing. It is amazing to think that while Paul was at the church in Antioch, his heart and mind were thinking about the other churches he had established. This is a good thing. If like Paul, we’ve planted the gospel in their hearts, or have raised disciples, or are fighting for someone in prayer, then it’s a good thing to keep them on our minds. In wanting to visit them Paul wanted to make sure that they had all that they needed. He wanted to make sure that they were protected, as there were many wolves with heresies and false gospels out there. He wanted to encourage his flock. He wanted to do anything he could to bless them and strengthen them in their walk of faith. But the question is why would Paul be willing to dedicate so much of himself in this way? Because the gospel message is a matter of life or death. Working for the kingdom of God is not a side job, or something to be done when we feel like it. The gospel work is our life’s purpose. We were created to serve the gospel cause. Not only so, but people’s lives are also at stake. That is the reality in which we operate. Our jobs, finances and relationships are not separate from the gospel work either. All of our different spheres of influence should be part of the gospel work. Paul deeply reflected his full dedication to serving the gospel in the lives of his sheep from first to last. He showed us that the gospel work is not just something we do on Sunday or on occasion when we have a meeting together.
Now let’s look at the disagreement that Paul had with his fellow co-worker Barnabas. Let’s read verses 37 & 38. “Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them 38but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.” In Paul bringing up this subject with Barnabas, he wasn’t being insensitive nor unmindful of Barnabas and his nephew Mark. Paul knew that Barnabas had a huge heart of encouragement and faith, especially for helping Mark. Paul didn’t say plain no! Paul spoke with gentleness and wisdom with Barnabas. His tone was something like this: “My friend, I don’t think it’s wise for us to take Mark with us this time.” He tried to negotiate with Barnabas. But what did Mark do in the first place that made Paul see him as unfit for this upcoming journey? It seems that Mark “had deserted them in Pamphylia”. So, what’s so bad about desertion? I’m sure that this is something we are all guilty of in one degree or another. What kinds of questions would run through your mind if our Pastor just up and left without saying anything, and then randomly shows up again months later? Or what goes through the mind when a faithful coworker suddenly stops showing up to meetings? Or if the women stop meeting and praying every Tuesday evening? Desertion has many ugly faces. It shows irresponsibility and weakness. It shows that someone is untrustworthy. It shows that they are not faithful. Not only that, it maybe contagious. When others see you ditching your responsibility, it’s an excuse for them to do the same. There’s nothing we can say to help them. Then the work of God which had entrusted us just falls to the ground waiting for a faithful next person to pick it up again. All the while God’s work suffers because of a deserter.
But what’s worse about desertion is when many are depending on us, and we leave them the moment that they need us. It’s really something which shows that we’re not ready to continue the task that we were entrusted with. Paul and Barnabas were two older men out on the frontlines of this gospel work and this young man Mark was an able man who left them in the worst of times to fend for themselves. To Paul, it was the decision that disqualified him to join them on their second missionary journey. In this decision, he wasn’t thinking about punishing Mark in any way, nor to humiliate him. Actually Paul was only thinking about the mission work, the church, and the people they would visit. His heart was set on encouraging them and strengthening them. He didn’t want to want to take any chances with a young Mark whose level of maturity was still questionable. Paul couldn’t risk any discouragements on a journey like this. That was Paul’s view and he strongly stuck to it, even if he had to disagree with his friend Barnabas. So what did Barnabas’ view?
Of course, Mark was young, and weak and not ready for such a journey, but it changes things when we have a shepherd like Barnabas full of hope in our corner. One who has hope for us and committed to seeing us through our stumbles and our failures. The hope that Barnabas had for Mark was golden. He was always this way. He was the kind of man who encourages and reconciles and could always see the grace of God in all circumstances. He knew that Mark was devastated by what he did. Barnabas felt that Mark needed encouragement and not to feel rebuked. And Mark did! Mark needed someone to build him up and to assure him that everything was going to be okay. It is hard enough to recover from a fall, but it is extremely difficult when our failure was that we deserted the mission and the people of God whom we love. When we’ve lost our saltiness, Jesus said it is almost impossible to become salty again. Even the apostle Peter, after he had deserted Jesus, needed a lot of time and encouragement to be restored. That is why Jesus had to repeatedly help Peter confess his love for Jesus and his commitment to feed Jesus’ sheep again and again. Barnabas may have had in mind to give Mark similar attention. And he was willing to do that even in the face of the Apostle Paul telling him that it wasn’t wise to bring him along. Nothing was going to shake Barnabas’ hope for Mark. As hard it was, Barnabas was even willing to sacrifice his journey with Paul and his companionship of Paul, which would indeed be very big and difficult sacrifices to make. It was not an end to their friendship of course, but the privilege of working together on this new journey. Yet Barnabas was willing to give it up for Mark.
In the midst of this disagreement, we have a question. Who is right and who is wrong here? Neither of them were wrong! This is one of the most fruitful disagreements in gospel history. These are the kind of healthy disagreements that believers should be having; and not the nonsense that we see on social media; Nor the kinds of things that bring shame and dishonor to our Lord and his church. The disagreements like the one we see here between Paul and Barnabas are the ones that are worthy and fruitful. Paul had his heart set on building up the mission and the church, while Barnabas has his heart set on building up one broken person. Godly disagreements build up the church all around. Barnabas was willing to sacrifice his companionship and mission with Paul to build up one broken man. While Paul was willing to sacrifice his journey with Barnabas to build up the church. There are many out there who are broken. They are deeply wounded from their own sin. How hard is it for them to recover on their own when they are filled with pride or self condemnation? But those who are called to be shepherds can do something about it. They can help them recover from their failures and failings. Like Barnabas, they can devote themselves to nursing them back to spiritual health, even at the cost of sacrifice.
This decision that Paul and Barnabas made impacted the church as a whole. Eventually Mark became one of the most faithful workers in the gospel, one who would remain at Paul’s side even in prison. Paul later says of him: “My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him)” (Col 4:10) “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” (2Tim 4:11) And eventually this same (once deserter) Mark, would become one of our dear gospel writers (The Gospel according to Mark), and would give us one our most needed views of the gospel story that would reflect the power and love of Jesus, in very unique way.
According to the rest of the passage, Paul chose Silas and left. (40) They were blessed by the believers in Antioch, and went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. It’s wonderful to see that Paul was never a one man show. He never worked alone. As gifted and able as he was, he understood that the gospel work was never to be done by one person. That’s the nature of God’s work. Even our Lord sent out his disciples two by two. It is a great sign of humility when we can work closely with one other person faithfully until the mission is complete. Paul always chose coworkers. It was partly to train them, and partly because he also needed them as well. Our Lord said these precious words: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt 18:20)
Let’s look at the next passage. Let’s read verse 1 of Chapter 16. “Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek.” If you recall what happened the last time Paul was at these cities, he was stoned, dragged out of the city, and left for dead. But in this passage, Paul goes back to the place of one of his worst sufferings and finds Timothy.
Just to give a bit of background about who Timothy is, what we do know is that his mother and grandmother had a great impact on his faith. His father doesn’t seem to be a believer. Paul mentions in some later epistles that Timothy inherited his great faith from his mother and grandmother. (2 Timothy 1:5) And that is significant because Timothy could have really been influenced by his father. With an example like that, he could have really gone the other way with his life. A father who is godless can really steer a child the wrong way. But this shows that we can never underestimate the influence of a godly person in someone’s life, especially if that person is a godly parent. And Timothy’s faith wasn’t just any kind of faith. We can see that the faith that he had was great because the believers of both Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. His sincerity as a disciple was evident to the entire church all around him.
Let’s read verse 3, “Paul wanted to take him along the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.” Now Timothy had a lot of weaknesses. He didn’t have many skills. He was very timid. He was also sickly with constant stomach problems. He wasn’t your normal strong and able young man who could endure Paul’s long missionary journeys and persecutions. There were many other skillful believers in the area and Paul could have easily ignored him. Paul could have passed Timothy by because on the surface he was weak and not really all that impressive. In fact, Paul didn’t have to take anyone else with him. But when he looked at Timothy, he didn’t see any of his weaknesses or problems. All he saw was the boy’s faith. And that is the only thing that really matters in a person’s life. It really is. When our Lord approached anyone to minister to them, he was always looking at their faith. Sorry but I’m going to do some name dropping here, as I’ve been privileged to co-work with our TBC committee. I’m glad that I can see each one of these members are giving their heart. But one of those whose faith really shines to me is Christa. She’s taken it upon herself to lead the committee. She is honest about her weaknesses and struggles as she has stepped up to serve God in this role. Her faith has encouraged all of us. Also, my coworker in the world mission committee Bamidele has great faith. In the face of his own struggles, and regardless if we as ministry struggled to go on campus, Bamidele has been going to campus faithfully this whole time. His great faith also speaks to me as well. If Timothy’s faith was anything like theirs, he would have been a great source of blessing and encouragement to Paul.
When Paul saw Timothy’s faith, it didn’t seem hard for him to ignore his other weaknesses. Paul not only wanted to raise him up and disciple him, but Timothy would later become an indispensable member of Paul’s missionary journeys. He would become Paul’s coworker, friend and even son in the faith. Paul circumcised him so that he wouldn’t be a stumbling block to the Jews. This may appear to be a small thing. But in a Jewish culture, the father is the one to perform the act. So Paul also did this signifying his commitment that he would take care of Timothy as a true father. Timothy would become a great contender and protector of the gospel message and gospel work. There are two books in the Bible written by Paul to him. And they give you a glance at what kind of church Timothy was serving.
While there are many things to get from these passages. I’d like us to think about both men, Paul and Barnabas. And all that they were willing to do for just one person. Mark and Timothy were two young men who didn’t look like they had much potential, who could easily be despised. But two shepherds invested their lives in them and sacrificed so much for them. May the Lord lead us to continue this legacy of disciple-raising. May we continue laying down our lives and sacrificing whatever is necessary in order to raise one person at a time, until they renew relationship with God and glorify Him with their lives. Amen.